LearnLiberty Audio Podcast
Summary: Welcome to the LearnLiberty.org podcast. Learn Liberty is a resource for learning about the ideas of a free society. Our goal is to provide a starting point for conversations on important questions: _ What is the nature of man and society? _ What are the best ways to organize human society? _ What is the proper role for government? _ Classical Liberal Tradition We believe that the classical liberal or libertarian tradition can offer compelling answers to these questions. Classical liberal ideas have deep intellectual roots, cultivated by thinkers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, the American Founders, and more recent scholars such as Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. These scholars emphasize the importance of free markets, voluntary exchange, individual rights, and peace. Classical liberal thinkers do not agree on everything, and the speakers on LearnLiberty.org are no exception. We believe exploring and discussing these ideas is so important precisely because we do not all agree. We hope you will join our conversation, and help advance the understanding of these important ideas. Through LearnLiberty.org videos and other content, college professors and public intellectuals provide a resource for understanding: Foundational principles and concepts drawn from disciplines such as economics, philosophy, history, political science, and law Contemporary issues and policy debates that impact individual liberty.
Does Congress possess the constitutional power to force its citizens to purchase health insurance? Prof. Elizabeth Price Foley says that's the key question in the Supreme Court challenge to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Supreme Court must decide whether the 'individual mandate' portion of the law falls under Congress's power to 'regulate commerce,' as enumerated by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. Prof. Foley argues that whether or not you personally support the health care legislation, you should be worried about the precedent that the individual mandate would set. If the power to regulate commerce is interpreted as including the power to force people to buy something, then that power doesn't just apply to health care. It would give Congress the power to make individuals buy anything, which poses a significant threat to individual liberty. Prof. Foley worked with the Institute of Justice to submit an amicus brief on the case, arguing that the individual mandate is like forcing a contract. Yet for hundreds of years, contracts have been understood as voluntary agreements between two parties. Thus, a forced contract is a contradiction in terms, and therefore unlikely to have been the kind of power intended to fall within the power to 'regulate commerce.' Prof. Foley worked with the Institute of Justice to file an amicus brief on the case: http://www.ij.org/health-insurance-reform-a-the-supreme-court
Should sweatshops around the world be shut down? What might we say if we looked at sweatshops from the perspective of the world's poor? While it may be true that sweatshops treat workers unfairly, Professor Matt Zwolinski says there are three points to be made in defense of sweatshops. The exchange between the worker and the employer is mutually beneficial. Sweatshop jobs often pay three to seven times more than wages paid elsewhere in an economy. Workers in the developing world tend to view sweatshop labor as a very attractive option. Even if sweatshop labor is unfair, it's a bad idea to prohibit it. Taking away sweatshops just takes away an option for the poorest workers of the world. While countries can make it illegal for sweatshops to pay low wages, they cannot prevent sweatshops from shutting down and paying no wages. And when that happens, the workers all lose their jobs. It is better to do something to end the problem of global poverty than it is to do nothing. Sweatshops are doing something to help. They are providing jobs that pay better than other alternatives, and they are contributing to a process of economic development that has the potential to offer dramatic living increases. If we look at sweatshops from the perspective of the world's poor, which looks better: the American company that outsources to a sweatshop and provides jobs in developing countries, or the American company that, because of its high-minded moral principles, hires only U.S. workers?
The cost of borrowing money is at a record low. Low interest rates and cheap credit encourage people to spend more, and to save less. Is this good or bad? Many argue that we need low interest rates to encourage spending. But low interest rates don't actually encourage people to spend more money. Low interest rates simply encourage people to spend more money now, and less in the future. The opposite is true for high interest rates. So what interest rate is best overall? Professor Davies says the best interest rate is the one that comes about naturally, without government intervention. Individuals know better than the Federal Reserve how and when to spend their money. Decisions on whether to consume more or save more is best left to individuals, not government officials.
In his conclusion to the series 'Schools of Thought in Classical Liberalism,' Dr. Nigel Ashford asks: What do you think the role of government should be? How do you decide what government should or shouldn't do? What's your philosophy? What do you believe? Anarchy: there is no role for government. Minimal government, or minarchy: government should provide an army, police, and courts, but nothing else. Social market economy: government has a responsibility for helping the poorest in society and providing a basic welfare state. Non-classical liberal views: it's the role of the government to promote a virtuous society (conservatism), to create equality (leftist), to own or control all aspects of the economy (socialism), or to control every aspect of life (totalitarianism, communism, and fascism).
What is an anarchist? Most people associate the word 'anarchist' with the political left. However, there are anarchists who advocate for completely unrestricted capitalism, also known as anarcho-capitalistism. Two prominent anarcho-capitalists are Murray Rothbard and David Friedman, both of whom believed there should be no government. Dr. Nigel Ashford discusses the views of Rothbard and Friedman. Rothbard favors anarcho-capitalism based upon his belief that it is always wrong to use force, except in self-defense. For Rothbard, the government is illegitimate because it relies on coercion. David Friedman, on the other hand, argues for anarcho-capitalism based on empirical evidence. Friedman believes that the market is always more efficient than the government. Both believe there should be no state at all. Rothbard criticizes government for its use of force, while Friedman criticizes its inefficiency. Both argue that there are free-market alternatives to all government services. While many libertarians favor a minimal state, Rothbard and Friedman suggest that any state is likely to grow well beyond its intended role.
Some philosophers believe that all human beings have natural rights. America has a strong natural rights tradition, embodied in the Declaration of Independence's claim that all men are endowed with 'certain unalienable rights.' In part 5 of his series, Dr. Nigel Ashford explores the beliefs and philosophical methodology of philosophers Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick, both of whom believed that natural rights should dictate the proper role and size of government. The philosophers agree that government often violates our natural rights. They also argue that capitalism is the only moral economic system, since it is based on voluntary action. So what should the proper role of government be? Rand and Nozick argue for a minimal state, that's sole purpose is to protect our natural rights.
When people refer to the 'Austrian School,' they are usually referring to the ideas of two prominent economists: Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Dr. Nigel Ashford highlights the similarities and differences of these two influential thinkers. On the one hand, Hayek tends to recognize the limits of human knowledge and reason. He argues that much of the order in society - language, for example - comes from human action. These orders weren't centrally planned or designed. For this reason, Hayek concludes the government lacks the knowledge or ability to centrally plan effectively. Mises arrives at the same conclusions as Hayek, but comes about it differently. Mises believes we can identify certain truths through experience and reasoning. Using a priori deductive reasoning, he too concludes that government has limited knowledge.
Schools of Thought in Classical Liberalism, Part 3: Public Choice What is the proper role of government and how can it be limited? Dr. Nigel Ashford continues his series on classical liberalism with a discussion of public choice. Public choice theory argues two points: 1.) that rational people would mutually agree upon limited government, also known as a 'social contract' and 2.) that all people, including politicians are primarily motivated by their own self-interest. Public choice theorists believe that politicians have a vested interest in growing government well beyond the social contract. So what should the role of government be? Public choice advocates typically argue that government should only protect individual rights, provide public goods, and address externalities like pollution. It is not the role of the government to provide for a welfare state, which goes beyond the social contract. How can we limit government? How does government grow so much beyond what the social contract dictates? Dr. Ashford uses real-life examples, such as agriculture subsidies, to give the public choice perspective on these questions.
Dr. Nigel Ashford discusses the ideas of Milton Friedman, a Nobel Laureate and economist. Friedman is widely considered the founder of the Chicago School, an intellectual tradition that basis its theories on empirical and measurable evidence and theories. According to the Chicago School, in order to assess the merits of a law, you must measure the results of that law. Laws may be well-intended, but the Chicago School demands that we measure the consequences of laws, and not just intentions. The Chicago School admits that markets do fail sometimes. But, they also believe that governments fail as well. They contend that government failure is almost always greater than market failure. That's why the Chicago School believes the government should be significantly limited. What does the Chicago School say about the proper role of government? According to Friedman's thinking, which you can find in his popular books Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose, the government should have four realms of responsibility: Military and police Administration of justice Public goods (like defense) and negative externalities (like pollution) Protection of children and mentally handicapped
What is 'classical liberalism?' Many people say they're a classical liberal - or 'libertarian' - but that means different things to different people. Libertarians agree that the government should be limited, but disagree why. In this seven part video series, Dr. Nigel Ashford explores five different schools of thought within the Classical Liberal tradition: The Chicago School Public Choice The Austrian School Natural Rights Anarcho-Capitalism Dr. Ashford takes a close look at the fundamental beliefs of these five schools of thought, exploring how they are similar, and how they are different. Throughout the series, Dr. Ashford challenges you to think critically and humbly about your own beliefs. What do you believe? What do you think the role of the government should be, and why? What is your philosophy about government? Are you a classical liberal, or something else? Dr. Ashford hopes you will approach these questions with humility, and draw your own conclusions.
Are corporations people, or are they something else? Corporations are made up of people - including employees, shareholders, and executives. So, are corporations distinct from the people that comprise them? Economics professor Steven Horwitz addresses this question. Today, many people say we should raise the corporate income tax as a way to tax the rich, or the so-called '1%'. But according to Professor Horwitz, taxes on corporations don't just tax rich executives, but also average workers and consumers. So who ends up paying when corporate taxes are raised? Workers pay in the form of lower wages Consumers pay in the form of higher prices Americans saving for retirement pay in the form of lower stock prices and a less valuable retirement portfolio Professor Horwitz shows that a tax on corporations is not the equivalent of a tax on the wealthy; instead individual people will pay these taxes, regardless of wealth. Working people bear the costs of the corporate income tax.
A large part of your Social Security taxes goes towards a forced savings plan intended to provide Americans with money for retirement. Economics professor Antony Davies looks at the Social Security system, and discusses alternatives that may provide Americans with more retirement money and more financial security. To evaluate the merits of Social Security, Professor Davies examines how much average Americans will earn in social security benefits relative to how much they will contribute. As it turns out, social security is a very poor option: the average worker will earn an annual return of only 1.2% percent on his social security taxes. Imagine, however, if workers weren't required to pay into social security. If a worker took the money that would have gone to social security taxes and invested it in the stock market himself, he could expect to earn a lot more; upwards of $500,000 dollars more. Accord to Davies, phasing out Social Security would enable government to honor its obligations to current retirees, shut down a program that costs half a trillion dollars each year, and allow Americans to transition to a system that would provide more safety and a better return on investment.
People say the government has a debt problem. But what causes federal government debt? Deficits cause debt. Every time government spending is greater than the amount government collects in tax revenue, the government runs a deficit, which increases the debt. In this video, economics professor Antony Davies traces the root cause of government debt to find out if the problem is too much spending or too little government tax revenue. Davies examines the data to determine whether the government debt problem is really a revenue problem. It turns out that federal tax revenue today is significantly greater than it was in the 1950s. Even adjusted for inflation and population growth, the federal government collects three times more tax revenue per person than it did 50 years ago. So if revenue isn't a problem, why are we still in debt? Ultimately, the data suggest that the debt problem is really a spending problem: No matter how robustly our tax revenue grows, government finds a way to spend everything it collects and more. Professor Davies concludes that the root cause of the government debt is spending, not a lack of tax revenue.
Price gouging is usually defined as raising prices on certain kinds of goods to an unfair or excessively high level during an emergency. Although price gouging is illegal in 34 states, economics professor Matt Zwolinski asks whether price gouging should be illegal. He uses an example to examine the moral status of price gouging. The following points suggest that price gouging may not be immoral after all: Consumers do not have to buy products for the higher price. If they decide to pay, it is likely because they are getting more from the product then they're paying. If the prices for important goods do not go up, it is likely that scarce resources will not be available for those who need them most. For buyers, high prices reduce demand and encourage conservation. People who may need something more are likely to pay more. For sellers, being able to charge higher prices creates a profit incentive to encourage more sellers to bring products to the market. The profit motive will increase competition and eventually drive down the price. What alternative institutions would do better? When price gouging is prohibited goods go to whoever shows up first. Even if we assume that price gouging is immoral, it almost certainly should not be illegal. The only reason price gouging occurs is because demand is high and supply is low. Professor Zwolinski argues that even if you think that price gouging is morally wrong, making it illegal doesn't make sense. It hurts the very people who need our help most.
The U.S. government's forced removal of the Cherokee Nation from Georgia to modern-day Oklahoma has become known as the Trail of Tears. The event is a blemish on U.S. history. Professor Amy Sturgis reads an extended excerpt from a letter by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote President Martin Van Buren to protest the injustice of the removal. Emerson's letter, 'The Protest against the Removal of the Cherokee Indians from the State of Georgia,' was addressed to President Van Buren on April 23, 1838. In the letter, Emerson writes, 'Such a dereliction of all faith and virtue, such a denial of justice, and such deafness to screams for mercy were never heard of in times of peace and in the dealing of a nation with its own allies and wards since the earth was made.' Emerson was not alone in protesting. The protests of Emerson and many others couldn't prevent the Trail of Tears: the U.S. government succeeded in forcibly removing the Cherokee people from their homeland in 1838.